I Saw What You Did (1965)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: May 17th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
How many pearls were clutched at I Saw What You Did back in 1965? While it wasn’t the first mainstream American film to tread into sordid territory (it was five whole years removed from Psycho, after all), you have to imagine that audiences weaned on William Castle’s usual brand of gimmicky fright-fests may still have been taken aback by the casual sleaziness of this little proto-slasher. Castle’s work is often so associated with those almost quaint, disarmingly retro marketing campaigns that even a modern viewer may give pause at a film that feels rooted in that vintage horror aesthetic, yet often strays into some incongruently lurid, fog-drenched paths.
Clearly an example that the horror genre had becomes a teenager’s game by the mid-60s, I Saw What You Did opens on two girls chatting away on the phone. Libby (Andi Garrett) is particularly excited because her parents are going out of the town for the night, even if it leaves her in the care of her younger sister, Tess (Sharyl Locke). Sensing some opportunity to have some fun, she invites Kit (Sara Lane) over to have some mischievous fun, as the girls spend most of the night prank calling random strangers. However, when their prank spree intersects with an actual murder, it lands them squarely in the crosshairs of a Steve Marak (John Ireland), a local man who has violently ended his marriage and is in the middle of arguing with his mistress (Joan Crawford).
Needless to say, this is a high-strung film resting on a couple of fault lines, waiting to erupt. Crawford’s presence only amplifies the potential for unhinged melodrama, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint. In her sparse screen-time, she gorges on the scenery, at one point threatening to swallow her younger co-stars when they cross paths during a memorable sequence. Making her final appearance in a US film production, Crawford is a delight as a wild-eyed but sympathetic mistress who has grown tired of her man futzing around—though not so much that she condones murder. In the second of two appearances for Castle (following Strait-Jacket), Crawford is something of a red-herring, or an embellishment not unlike her gaudy, bedazzling necklace, there to add to the film’s unbalanced, surprisingly psychosexual atmosphere.
This middle stretch of I Saw What You Did—which blends lighthearted teenage fun with disturbing domestic turmoil—is perhaps light on overt horror elements but heavy on a general grime and scumminess. You could be forgiven for assuming a film from this era wouldn’t go all in with its implications and perhaps even shy away from them. In fact, Castle does exactly the opposite: when these two girls (who are being played by actual teenagers) call up these men on the phone, they take on sultry personas in the hopes of either causing drama or actually meeting up with them.
During the course of their ill-fated conversation with Marak, it becomes clear that Libby at least would like to have a rendezvous, a positively scandalous turn of events that the film actually indulges. When Libby goes so far as to swipe her parents’ car and dress up for the occasion, it’s heavily implied that the encounter will be sexually-charged. I mean, no one comes right out and says they’re going to fuck, but it can’t be denied that a teenage girl is meeting up with a much older man for some sort of fling—with her younger sister in tow, at that. This is what passed as pushing the envelope during this time.
Of course, Libby has no clue that Steve really only wants to meet up because he’s convinced she and her friend have somehow discovered that he’s just brutally murdered his wife (in a shower, naturally), a wrinkle that only compounds the sleaze on display here. I Saw What You Did proceeds from the era’s growing awareness that monsters were no longer giant, irradiated bugs but rather true creeps living among us. Castle preys on these sympathies with an almost exploitative eye, as these wholly innocent, nubile girls see their supposedly harmless prank twisted into a stalk-and-slash nightmare (a motif that would of course be repurposed and recycled in slasher movies for years).
And yet, I Know What You Did often looks the part of a film from that previous decade, especially once Marak sets his sights on the girls in an attempt to tie up any loose ends. Suddenly, the film transforms into a vintage, gothic chiaroscuro dream, its wonderfully artificial, backlot sets bathed in an unreal fog that slinks and purrs about every crevice. Where Hitchcock deployed black and white to stage stark, gritty violence, Castle’s sensibilities hew more classically: I Saw What You Did may be couched in griminess, but it has the soul of an old-school, B-movie spook show from the golden era of studio filmmaking, what with its recognizable stars and its mannered compositions.
Lurking beneath, however, is that twisted little mean streak that hints at the genre’s looming nastiness. While it’s fair to balk at labelling I Saw What You Did a slasher (primarily due to its meager body count), it’s not entirely questionable. Certainly, Castle was onto something, as the film anticipates a number of films that would eventually find young, vulnerable women stalked by maniacs. He stops just short of completely embracing this kind of grim-faced meanness with its goofball punchline, meaning I Saw What You Did falls somewhere between Val Lewton and the looming exploitation circuit: it’s somehow both ahead of and behind the times, making it quite an entertaining, curious stopgap.
At one point frustratingly out-of-print on DVD, I Saw What You Did recently made its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Scream Factory. While the only extras are a couple of trailers and a photo gallery, Scream has commissioned a new high-definition trailer from restored elements, so this is quite a welcome addition to its increasingly eclectic library. The stark black-and-white photography pops off the screen without any of the print elements being scrubbed away by digital tampering—this is a fantastic transfer that should be well-received by anyone who (like yours truly) who spent the past decade or so hoping I Saw What You Did would come back into circulation. Sometimes, a film straddling two eras like this is only worthwhile as a curiosity, but this one passes as some amusing, almost trashy fun draped in clashing vintage digs. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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